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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 26 April, 2018

'You’re thinking you’re going to die here, you’re going to have a heart attack on a bus'

Former Donegal star Eamon McGee has recounted his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks and alcohol.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

FORMER DONEGAL STAR Eamon McGee has lifted the lid on his former struggles with anxiety, panic attacks and alcohol.

The 2012 All-Ireland winner, who announced his inter-county retirement last year following a glittering career that spanned 13 years, spoke with former Cavan goalkeeper Alan O’Mara on the latest Real Talks podcast. 

McGee, who made his debut against Antrim in 2004, admits that he struggled with the demands of inter-county football at a young age, and developed a “dangerous relationship” with alcohol.

McGee also recounts how he suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, recounting a time when he was sitting on a bus fearing that he was going to die or suffer a heart attack.

He also reveals how he was “sceptical” when Jim McGuinness was appointed as manager of the Donegal senior team in 2010.

McGuinness dropped McGee when he discovered that the Gweedore man went drinking after an initial meeting between the pair, before he later earned a recall.

And McGee also explains how he found himself reverting to old habits and behaviours for a two-month spell following his retirement.

Life’s good now. At the time, when I retired, I probably didn’t really know the massive decision that I’d made. It wasn’t until it was about two or three months afterwards, I went through a downer, whatever you want to call it.

“I was in bad form, I struggled with that whole identity as a Gaelic footballer and an athlete. I definitely struggled with it. I think that happens to everybody. Some people have the tools to deal with it better than others. I’m in a far better spot (now).”

McGee also speaks about the adjustment to life after inter-county football.

“Small things, you’re going to the gym and you’re paying for your gym membership.

“It was the first time in 15 years I had to pay for a pair of shorts.

“Your diet…you can eat as much chocolate as you want and not feel shit after eating a bar of chocolate, thinking ‘Jesus, I must work harder tonight to work that off.’

“It’s like a teenager when he suddenly finds himself in college. There’s this massive freedom and he doesn’t know what to do with it.”

At the end of that difficult spell following his retirement announcement, McGee freely admits that “I was a nightmare to live with.”

And he said: “From an early stage of my career, I would have struggled in terms of the mental health side of it. I’d have made a lot of wrong decisions.

I thought I had come through that but I could see old behaviours coming back. I had to go back to the tools that I had acquired during that time and try to work my way out of it.

“But for two months I did nothing, I didn’t fill the void, I’ve already filled it with old habits, bad habits.

Source: eir Sport/YouTube

“I probably reverted back to, not completely but parts of me, old behaviours creeping up.

“Joanne (his partner) had to pull me up and said ‘listen, you go back and do something in the gym’ or ‘you get back and do what got you into good form in the first place.’

You have to try and fill that void but me being me, I didn’t listen to her at the start. I knew it all. The form got bad, I had to try and get a more balanced lifestyle here. I got back to using those tools I had acquired.”

McGee, a vital defensive cog when Donegal stormed to All-Ireland glory five years ago, recalled his first encounter with McGuinness.

Jim McGuinness Former Donegal senior football team manager Jim McGuinness. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When Jim McGuinness came in initially, he’s on about winning All-Irelands.

I was very sceptical of him, he dropped me from the panel for the first few months because from my initial meeting with him, I says ‘Jesus, I’m away for a few pints here. He got word of it, he said ‘Jesus I don’t like this, this is the old Donegal, this isn’t the Donegal I want to be part of.

“He dropped me, thankfully he asked me back but the Donegal team, pre-Jim, and the Donegal team I ended up with, they’re two totally different animals.

“It’s hard to explain until you experience it but it’s night and day, polar opposites of each other.”

Speaking about his personal struggles, McGee says that he was “renowned more as a partier than a footballer” for a spell during the noughties.

And he said: “I think it was apparent that I struggled off the field and as a result of that, I struggled on the field, too.

“For me, it was just culture at the time. The lads all enjoyed the pints, didn’t take things too seriously.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It suited me but none of the lads suffered from anxiety attacks or panic attacks or they didn’t develop a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

“That was part of what happened to me. All them lads grew out of that, I never grew out of that phase then. That’s where I was at.

A big enough social scene was a big part of it and unfortunately, I had other things going on in the background, too. When you add that in, it was just a bad combination. It wasn’t conducive to an elite athlete.

“For me, buses was a big one. I’m sitting on the bus sweating, on the way to college. You don’t want anyone else to know. You’re jittery, it was a wild struggle to hide it. You’re thinking you’re going to die here, you’re going to have a heart attack on a bus. It’s tight stuff.”

You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the link below:

Source: Real Talks/SoundCloud

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